OpinionMeister

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Important First Amendment Case

Power Line pointed me to an article by Thomas Lipscomb in Editors and Publishers that is very disturbing. Link.
Sheik Khalid Salim a bin Mahfouz has allegedly endowed and arranged financing for a number of Islamic charity organizations that have been accused of funding terrorism. Ehrenfeld asserts, “There are currently over 10 lawsuits outstanding by numerous plaintiffs in the United States claiming billions of dollars in damages from Mahfouz's alleged involvement in financing the 9/11 attack of the World Trade Center." (...)

In an attempt to circumvent the First Amendment protection of American writers like Ehrenfeld, Mahfouz has successfully sued or settled with over 30 publications and authors for defamation and libel in British courts for years. "That many legal actions brought in a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction evidences a consistent campaign by Mahfouz to silence any author, journalist, or publication who attempt to analyze or document any role he may have had in funneling the money of the Saudi royal family or wealthy Saudi families to terrorist activities," Korenstein points out.

While the standards for libel and defamation in the United States put the burden of proof on the plaintiff, in the United Kingdom it is up to the defendant. And credible testimony alone does not establish proof. If an author cites a quotation by the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, which is attacked as defamatory, the direct testimony of Albright is insufficient proof without the underlying material she based her statement upon.

Because of the heavy expenses involved in countering Mafouz's suits and the very different standards of proof in British courts, authors and publications with assets in the United Kingdom have settled, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

But the most amazing part is yet to come.
But Ehrenfeld never published "Funding Evil" in the United Kingdom. Fewer than 30 copies entered the United Kingdom, presumably through Internet sales and special orders following its publication in the United States in 2003. And yet she had a default judgment entered against her by British Judge Eady on December 7, 2004, for defamation of Mahfouz. A penalty hearing has been set for April 29 to consider Mahfouz's claim for legal expenses and damages, a retraction by Ehrenfeld of the passages objected to in the suit, and injunctive relief preventing any further appearance of her book in the United Kingdom. (...)

As an American citizen, Ehrenfeld has ignored the Mahfouz British action and default judgment. "If American authors can be silenced by actions of foreign courts in their own home jurisdiction in the United States, what use are the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech?" she said. "To establish that protection for myself and other writers, I have sued Mahfouz in the United States Federal Court in the Southern District of New York in December."

If a libel suit can be brought in a plaintiff-friendly country where the book had not been published, then the First Amendment protections for an author are meaningless. This is important enough for the president or our ambassador to the Court of St. James to speak about with the British prime minister. Our government opposes the International Criminal Court because it would put our soldiers under foreign legal jurisdiction. How about the administration taking a stand to keep foreign courts from crushing freedom of speech in the US.

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